U.S. Department of Energy Awards $18 Million for Cutting-Edge Technologies to Optimize Vehicle Performance and Efficiency

Four Teams Funded to Work on Advancements in Vehicle Automation and Connectivity That Will Reduce Emissions and Create Jobs

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The U.S. Department of Energy today announced $18 million in funding for four cutting-edge projects that will help passenger vehicles operate more efficiently, reduce energy consumption, and contribute to the Biden Administration’s goal of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. This funding is part of Phase II of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy’s (ARPA-E) Next-Generation Energy Technologies for Connected and Automated On-Road Vehicles (NEXTCAR) program.

“The same nifty features that are making cars easier to drive can also make them way more efficient, use less gas, and save drivers money at the pump,” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “These technologies are a win-win for drivers, and they’re also going to lead to more jobs, a cleaner transportation sector, and rapid progress towards our carbon-free future.”

Launched in 2016, ARPA-E's NEXTCAR program focuses on reducing vehicle energy consumption by developing Connected and Automated Vehicle (CAV) technologies that optimize vehicle dynamic controls and powertrain operation, allowing a vehicle to automatically process and react to its surrounding environment, traffic conditions and nearby vehicles. Current CAV technologies predominantly focus on the improvement of vehicle safety and adding driving convenience, while NEXTCAR is among the first of research efforts in this space to specifically focus on developing CAV technologies to reduce vehicle energy use.  

Phase I of NEXTCAR focused on the development of CAV technologies for use in all vehicle classes, including cars, trucks, and buses, with the goal of enabling a 20% reduction in energy consumption. The teams moving on to Phase II of NEXTCAR are building on these goals with a specific focus on light-duty passenger vehicles, a 30% reduction in energy consumption, and taking vehicles to Level 4 of automation, where a vehicle is able to perform all driving operations on its own with optional human override.

“Michigan workers, manufacturers and universities are the best in the world and continue to lead the development of next generation vehicles. Michigan Tech is one of those institutions leading the way in creating longer range electric and autonomous vehicles, improving safety and making our cars more energy efficient. This investment will ensure Michigan remains a global leader,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow.

The four teams selected to receive $18 million in funding through Phase II of NEXTCAR are:

  • The University of California Berkeley (Berkeley, CA): UC Berkeley will adapt and expand their eco-route, eco-drive, and eco-charge controls to leverage connectivity and Level 4 automation to generate additional efficiency benefits in electrified vehicles. Award amount is $3,474,864.
  • Michigan Technical University (Houghton, MI): MTU will expand its set of test vehicles, leveraging connectivity and Level 4 automation technologies to identify additional opportunities for efficiency and range optimization. Award amount is $4,498,650.
  • Ohio State University (Columbus, OH): OSU will integrate advanced system-level optimization and control technologies for a PHEV with Level 4 automation; working to improve energy efficiency by more than 30%. Award amount is $4,933,933.
  • Southwest Research Institute (San Antonio, TX): SwRI will adapt and expand its predictive eco-routing, eco-driving, and hybrid power control strategies using vehicles with L4 automation. Award amount is $5,250,000.

Light-duty vehicles, like those targeted through NEXTCAR Phase II, are responsible for almost 60% of overall energy consumption in all vehicles across the transportation sector. CAV technologies can increase vehicle efficiency, which in turn can drastically reduce emissions across the transportation sector, leading to a more efficient domestic vehicle fleet and further reducing U.S. dependence on fossil fuels.

“NEXTCAR Phase I teams successfully demonstrated that technological advancements in connectivity for automated vehicles can greatly improve the efficiency of our transportation sector.” said ARPA-E Acting Director and Deputy Director for Technology Jennifer Gerbi. “We are eager to see how these Phase II teams can continue this crucial work in designing the efficient vehicle fleet of the future.”

Ten teams were originally selected under NEXTCAR Phase I to receive $32 million in funding. In addition to the $18 million being provided to the four teams from Phase II at this time, additional funding will be provided at a later date for program-wide demonstration and testing activities.

Access more information about the Phase II teams HERE and get more details about the NEXTCAR program HERE.